Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nordic By Northwest

This post is ostensibly a continuation of the discussion from "Living Room Blues" about the Nordic-inspired living room I’m trying to create and how it fits here in the Northwest. But really it’s just an excuse to sneak in a reference to one of my favorite films—the Alfred Hitchcock 1959 thriller North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant!*

Beyond the fact that the film features a couple of beautiful houses, there is really no relationship to our house project. But isn’t it nice to just look at a picture of Cary Grant anyway? Sigh. They don’t make ‘em like they used to. 

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint
Back to the subject at hand. So what is this Nordic element I’m trying to infuse into the living room?
Unlike our house on Whidbey Island, I’m not making any overt references to folk architecture or folk art or historical styles. Instead I’m playing with a quality of light that I associate both with Scandinavia (especially in winter) and also the Northwest, and trying to capture it in my paint choices and accents.

But I’m finding the Nordic grey-blue is a tricky one to replicate! Too grey and it compounds the depressing, oppressive grey we already see outside here in Seattle a good portion of the year. Too blue and it goes all baby-ish and cloyingly sweet. Too dark—as in marine or navy—and it becomes a cliché of seaside, nautical décor.

No, what I am after is a luminous silvery grey that leans to the blue side with some hints of sea-green in it too—like the color of the water in the photo below taken a couple of summers ago in Denmark.

After examining scads of color chips and narrowing down to a dozen or so, I finally chose two to test on the wall, as shown below (along with some "props" for context).

Although both colors looked just plain "concrete grey" at first, the next day when I came to see them after they had thoroughly dried, I found myself drawn to the lighter of the two. And so it was that Sherwin Williams’ color “Tinsmith” became the final choice, shown below with some of the runner-up paint chips and several trim candidates). It looks quite grey, right?

What I had forgotten was that as soon as a whole room is painted with a particular color, some aspect of it often becomes amplified; in this case the blue. The first time I saw the final result, I was SO disappointed. All my efforts to avoid that “baby blue” pastel look in favor of something more sophisticated and complex seemed for naught. It screamed out pale blue to me. Can you believe this is the same color shown above?

Now this has happened to me before—that a color starts playing tricks on me—but I have learned that it really doesn’t make sense to judge until the room is finished. The difference that trim colors and flooring and upholstery and accent pieces make is amazing. So I’m counting on past experience that the color will moderate back to that silvery grey-blue once everything is done. I’ll post another photo once the room is done and let you be the judge. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

5/21/12 Postscript: Talk about Nordic light--I just discovered this lovely blog from a young woman living in the far north of Sweden: Jonna Jinton  So beautiful!

5/4/13 Postscript: Here's a corner of our mostly finished living room (still missing window/door trims and drapes...). It still looks a little baby-blue here, but actually reads soft blue-grey in person.


*If you want some fun trivia on the film North by Northwest, check out these links:
  • Hooked on Houses shows all the houses from the film and some interiors too.
  • 2006 article by Todd McEwan who quips "North By Northwest isn’t a film about what happens to Cary Grant, it’s about what happens to his suit.” and then proceeds to discuss all the fine points about that fabulous suit.
  • The Sartorialist also featured a piece on the Mr. Grant's suit from the movie.